Letter to my Freshman Self
Dear Freshman Matt,
Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m not going to send you the winning lottery numbers for the next five years. Please. You should have thought about the possibility of receiving letters from your future self before you signed the Community Covenant.
Also, you’re gay.
Hear me out. If things run their natural course, you will finally admit to yourself that you aren’t just “too mature to notice girls” right before sophomore year. (And really? You believed yourself for so long?!) By the grace of God you will somehow muster up the courage to talk about it with the small group you co-lead, and you will almost pass out. But you won’t, and as you finish speaking you will be surrounded and hugged and rejoiced over and loved and loved and loved. And so your life will change.
Junior year you’ll start going to counseling, thinking that you may still be able to become straight. You will become a lot of things because of your semi-weekly visits – more confident, more gracious, more reconciled to yourself, happier, generally less insane – but you won’t become straight. Yet by then you won’t really care because you will have discovered something greater: joy.
Things will mostly get better from there, and by the time you’re me you’ll have graduated, lived abroad in various countries, become fluent in spanish, formed deeply profound friendships, started seminary, and never felt more alive. Oh, yeah, seminary. That International Relations thing isn’t going to work out for you.
Feel free to follow the exact path I did. I mean, it worked out for me, so you should be ok.
But here’s what I wish I had been told when I was you, five years ago, taking my first excited steps onto Wheaton’s campus:
1. Your attraction to men doesn’t make you a monster. It doesn’t make you less of a man, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have close friends, and it certainly doesn’t mean God loves you any less.
Don’t waste away like I did trying to be “normal.” You will hate yourself for years because you just want to be “normal,” and it will always seem out of reach. But life is never “normal.” In a few years you’ll stumble upon Stephen Holmes’ blog, and he will remind you that following a murdered Messiah is not normal, believing he rose from the dead is not normal, and basing your life upon that reality is not normal.
You want to be “normal” because you want to know that your attractions don’t single you out, don’t set you aside for a life of isolation. I get that, and they don’t, but there’s something more to this: what I’ve come to realize is that all I really wanted was to know that I was human, like everyone else. I’ve always been so jealous of people who don’t seem to have experienced the terror of feeling inhuman, of harboring difference in their bones. And yet I’ve become a more compassionate, humble, loving person because I had to wrestle through it, had to fight to believe that I could be loved. I wish I could spare you that pain, but I imagine you’ll tell me that it would all be worth it to learn how to love better. And you’ll be right.
2. Take full advantage of Wheaton, for it will be your saving grace. There will be moments of frustration, but you will leave 501 College Ave. thankful beyond words. Get to know your professors. Do it! Your friends will make fun of you for it sometimes (the godless philistines!), but the wonderful men and women you befriend will constantly challenge, console, and inspire you. They will never let you fall into self-indulgence or shallow self-pity, and will model lives of passionate, intelligent faith. I still talk with them regularly. They were, for me, the primary instruments God used to drag me out of despair. You’re only an undergraduate for a brief time, don’t let it go to waste.
And did you know that, outside of college, counseling costs like a billion dollars an hour? I know. So get going, dude. All the cool kids go to the counseling center, anyway, and the receptionist is the nicest lady ever. Within those walls you will gain incredible clarity, and the lies that were choking you will slowly begin to fall away. I promise you, being gay is hardly one of your biggest problems. Counseling won’t “fix” you, but it will give you the space you need to be totally honest with yourself, and you will be changed.
I promise you, being gay is hardly one of your biggest problems.
Oh, and during your senior year you will help found this totally radical group called Refuge, a community for non-straight students. Really, though, it’s just an excuse to hang out with crazy friends and laugh until you begin to lose vision. Don’t miss the chance to join it when it comes around.
3. This is the most important thing I have to tell you: never stop pursuing God. I could say so much here, but I’ll try to be brief: through all the pain, all the aching, all the uncertainty, the feelings of abandonment, the meltdowns in Gold Star chapel, the exhilaration, the silence, the madness, the beauty, and the awe – through the ups and downs of simply living life – you will find that God is very, very good and worth following no matter the cost. You will fall in love with him in a million thrilling ways, and he will be what holds your life together and makes it all coherent, somehow.
Never forsake him. You will have to ask yourself a lot of difficult questions about how your faith shapes your sexuality and vice-versa, and I promise that the answers won’t always be easy. But ask those questions. I still do, and continue to find the grace to carry on and thrive because God daily proves himself more faithful and more wonderful than I think possible.
Know this: you are so much more than your sexuality. It’s important, for sure, and I understand that it can often feel like the biggest, most terrifying part of you. But it’s just one strand in the web of your life. A few years from now you will be sitting in a room of friends as the night wears on, laughing, yelling, trading stories and jokes, and you will be suddenly struck by how whole you feel. Everyone in that room will know that you are gay, and none of them will be thinking about it. Because you’re just Matt, their friend and brother, and they love you. And you’ll smile to yourself because, how strange, you finally believe it.
It’s worth repeating because I still need to hear it myself: God loves you. Your friends love you. And you are worthy to be loved.
Matt Jones graduated from Wheaton in 2012, and spent the next year writing anonymously for the blog Gay Subtlety. This July he began blogging under his real name at a personal website: A Joyful Stammering.